Saugatuck Passes Resolution Strongly Opposing Proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act
“Tonight we had an opportunity to reaffirm our stand in LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transexual) rights and the rights of all people,” said Saugatuck City Council Member Jeff Spangler Monday night following the council’s unanimous vote opposing the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The Douglas City Council passed a similar resolution a week ago. The two communities are highly concerned how such a bill, if approved by Michigan legislators, would undermine and trump local ordinances.
“There’s significant anger among the gay community about Michigan’s negative attitude toward treating gay citizens equally,” longtime Saugatuck resident and attorney Sharon Kelly told the Saugatuck Council right before there vote. “There is talk of a boycott. There is talk of spending money elsewhere. There is even talk of living elsewhere.”
The RFRA proposal has prompted concern and sparked protests in other communities across the state as well, including a protest at the state capitol.
House Bill 5958 passed in the GOP-dominated House by a 59-50 vote along party lines on December 4, with all votes coming from Republicans.
And although the bill never came to a vote in the Senate before the lame-duck session ended last week, Kelly encouraged the council to continue to “speak out against these trends.”
Both Kelly and the council say they are aware the RFRA proposal could be reintroduced when the new session starts in January.
Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) sponsored the bill, claiming it would give people the right to practice deeply held religious beliefs without interruption from government.
Opponents, on the other hand, say it would allow and affirm gratuitous discrimination against members of the LGBT community and others.
And this is especially true, they argue, since a companion bill (the Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act) expanding Michigan’s civil rights acts to cover the LGBT community was declared dead by Bolger after a committee couldn’t get enough votes to advanced the bills to the full House earlier this month.
“The vagueness and ambiguity contained in House Bill 5958 as written could result in unnecessary and expensive litigation for local governments and adversely impact the purpose for which City of Saugatuck Ordinance 130.03 was adopted,” states, in part, the City of Saugatuck resolution passed Monday night.
Critics of the legislation continue to argue, just as Saugatuck’s resolution alludes to, that plenty of state and federal law already protects religious beliefs and rights, so there is no need for more legislation.
City officials say they would forward the city’s resolution to Governor Rick Snyder and legislative leaders.